Friday, February 17, 2023

Villains of FFVII Part 1: Every-day Evil

The world of Final Fantasy VII possesses the stark contrasts that make for a great fantasy adventure. The entire world is on the brink of destruction from multiple threats. The heroes of the narrative tackle larger-than-life monsters, world-dominating leaders of an evil corporation, and a parasitic being capable of breaking the world into pieces in order to harvest the very source that gives life to all beings on the planet. You see, it’s not a Final Fantasy title unless the storyline is like the shopping cart of commuting parents doing their monthly trip to Sam’s Club. It’s too full, but you know they are proud of everything in there.

The strong villains of FF7 give the game a dynamic energy. Each of the playable characters has their own set of weaknesses and complications. But within the context of their world, they are the only hope of thwarting the bad guys.

There are a number of antagonists and villains in the game, more than enough to fill two articles. So this week I’ll warm you up with what I’ll call the every day evil of FF7. These characters are capable of terrible things, and provide some of the most heart-rending conflicts of the story. These are formidable henchmen, and some very unusual representations of what it means to be evil.

The “Citizens” of Nibelheim

The leading man and lady of FF7, Cloud and Tifa, grew up together in the same town. Nibelheim, their home, was near power plant belonging to the Shinra company. This power plant was the site of massacre, which was then covered up by the Shinra company. The player passes through this town, and Cloud finds himself extremely confused that the burnt remains of his town are nowhere to be seen. Rather, everything is pristine and appears to be in the exact condition he remembers from his childhood.

Except he doesn’t know a single person in the town, and all of them deny the massacre that took place.

The reason for this is that the Shinra corporation has assembled a large team of actors to populate the area, and prevent the spread of bad publicity.

This heinous lie is upheld by an entire village of people, and ranks alongside some of the darkest evil depicted in the game in my book: A complicit community rides along in the wake of a dictatorship disguised as an innovative corporation, erasing horrific crimes from memory, day after day.

The Turks

So the Shinra Corporation has an elite group of minions called “The Turks”. These characters have various members who come and go throughout the story. Initially, the player finds it bad enough that the Turks take hostages, torture, and kill anyone who the Shinra corporation chooses. This includes kidnapping Aerith, the white mage and co-leading lady of the party.

This is immediately following by a staged terrorist attack that destroys an entire swath of the lower half of Midgar, the largest city in the FF7 world. You see, Midgar is built with the wistful idea that an entire city could be built on top of a structure with multiple plates holding it up. The wealthy or middle class people are able to afford living on top of the plate, while the impoverished live below. The Turks, tasked by the president of Shinra, detach the plate from it’s supports, and demolish the pillars holding it up, killing thousands.

This is the high point of the Turks’ evil in the game. Despite taking place quite early in the storyline it’s enough to stick in the player’s mind and then some.

President and Rufus Shinra

At the start of the game the primary antagonist is a man we know only as “President Shinra”. He is a manipulator of public opinion and a war strategist, not above concocting conspiracy theories and propaganda to deceive the public.

Well, after a chilling scene when the party discovers President Shinra dead, his son, Rufus, swoops in and assumes his position as heir to the presidency.

He describes his approach to being President this way (paraphrased): My father thought that he could use money to control people, to keep them happy. I intend to use fear. It’s much more efficient.

Rufus may not be the smartest criminal mastermind in the series, but he has every intention of being a malevolent dictator. 

He nearly executes in the later half of the game, and proves an aggressive warlord, devoting his time and money to developing bigger and better weapons. While he doesn’t quite reach his father’s level of horrifying evil, Rufus does remain a character players love to hate.

My next post will reveal three more villains from FF7 at a whole other level of evil, cruelty, and destructive history. It’s antagonists like this that provide the stark contrast that makes our heroes stand out so much more the brighter, despite their weaknesses and human moments.

And who doesn’t love a story with a great villain?

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